The following is an excerpt from the book Cut the Crap, Get a Job! a New Job Search Process for a New Era I will be running a series of excerpts from this book over the next several weeks.
I am a BIG, BIG, BIG proponent of preparing for an interview in advance. I've written about it several times including An Interview is a Test You Can Study For and How to Stay Relaxed During (And Make the Most of) a Job Interview. If you don't prepare for an interview in advance and instead "wing it" like most people do, you are doing yourself a great disservice.
Sam Anderson was interviewing for the job of his dreams. He researched the company, had a brother-in-law in another division of the company who could be a reference, and was confident in his sales skills. When Jane, the interviewer, asked, “If I interviewed other people you have worked with, what would they say are your strengths?” he froze. He began thinking about specific people he worked with and what they might say. Then he thought about a prior manager and what he would say. Pretty soon, he was all over the place with his answer, sharing random strengths that had no connection or story. What happened? Well, the question was just another version of “tell me about your strengths.” The interviewer simply worded it differently. And Sam wasn’t prepared.
How about this interview request: “Tell me about yourself.” Have you rehearsed a short three-sentence version that is compelling to an interviewer?
The state of most candidates’ interview performance is pathetic. It IS a performance and there is no excuse for poor interview answers for 80% of the questions you will be asked. It is remarkable that the most frequently asked questions are available on the web, yet candidates fumble their way through them. Even more remarkable is that candidates who do prepare do so right before the interview. You can do this now, without having any
This chapter focuses on the interview preparation you do WELL BEFORE applying for jobs. Do this work very well ONCE, then you can review, refine, and rehearse it before an interview later.
You need to shatter all that you believe about interviews and restart. There are no secrets.
Success requires good old-fashioned preparation and practice. And the more nervous you are, the more you need to prepare.
First, let’s bust some myths:
1. The Myth: The interviewer really cares about what I say…the content.
The Truth: Sometimes. With certain questions, such as your strengths and weaknesses, yes, they want to learn. But they are also looking for your ability to articulate ideas, start a thought then stop a thought, and simply observing if your speaking style is clear and articulate.
2. The Myth: I don’t want to sound scripted.
The Truth: You won’t. You will still use tone and inflection to say the words. You will be more
relaxed since you know the content. You will sound self-aware, confident, and thoughtful.
3. The Myth: I should wait to see what they ask then think about it during the interview so I
can tailor my answer to the hiring manager.
The Truth: Complicated and unnecessary. Your skills, experiences, strengths, weaknesses, and more are already fixed. You will still be able to tailor messages to the specific interviewer, but that will be accomplished by adding to the answers you prepare during the interview.
4. The Myth: Interviews are all about the interviewer’s questions, not the questions I ask
The Truth: Often the hiring decision is made based on the questions YOU ask and the discussion that follows those questions. So you need to prepare your questions, as well as the answers, well prior to the interview. Not the night before!
Solution: Create two separate documents well in advance of any interviews
1 Document #1: Your interview answers using the Cut the Crap (CTC) Interview Prep Guide: The Most Commonly Asked Interview Questions
2 Document #2: The questions YOU ask during an interview
Interview Questions and Your Answers
Following “listening,” a huge part of answering interview questions well is to understand why the interviewer is asking this question. Once you put yourself in their shoes and understand their intent, you will be able to provide answers that are truthful yet formulated in such a way that you perform well throughout the hour.
Use the Cut the Crap (CTC) Interview Prep Guide: The Most Commonly Asked Interview Questions
The Questions YOU Ask During an Interview
The questions you ask in an interview can help you OR knock you out of the running.
Joseph had an hour-long interview at 8:00 a.m. with the hiring manager, Susan, for a position he really wanted. He did some research on the company, reread the job description, and brushed up on his top strengths and weaknesses. He was on time and did
well during the interview. Until the last 15 minutes. Susan asked, “Well, Joseph, what questions do you have for me?”
Joseph displayed “crap” in the form of mistakes that sabotaged his odds of winning this job.
Mistake #1: He didn’t have any questions prepared.
Solution #1: Prepare your questions, write them down, and bring the piece of paper in with you to the interview.
Mistake #2: Joseph asked, “What is the starting salary?”
Solution #2: Never ever, ever, ever talk salary, even in ranges. Your mission is to get an offer in hand. Once you do, you can ask questions and possibly negotiate. Not before. Not to the human resources (HR) person, a recruiter, or to any interviewer.
Mistake #3: “Is there a training program or structured on-boarding process?”
Solution #3: Think about the story or perception the interviewer is creating with your questions. Put yourself in their shoes. In this case, they may be thinking, “Wow, he needs handholding and may be too high-maintenance for me. I need someone who knows how to do this.” If a training program is mentioned in the job description or on the company website, then it is appropriate to ask for more insights about the structure, length, etc.
Mistake #4: “What does your division or company do?”
Solution #4: It is still shocking how many job seekers ask this question. With the web, calling people you know, social media, and many other resources, there is no excuse like, “I didn’t have time.” By the way, in the U.S., one of my favorite resources (that I have referred hundreds of job seekers to) is your local city’s Business Journal, both their online resources and receiving their publication. Look up American City Business Journals at acbj.com.
The keys to a great question from you to the interviewer are:
- How can I show a strength through the question?
- How can I convey something to the interviewer that we haven’t already covered but it’s important for him/her to know about me?
- How can I avoid inadvertently showing a softness in a skill they need strength in?
- Is my question relevant to the interview? You are there for a purpose. Your questions should focus on helping you understand the job or the team you will be joining. Examples: Don’t ask, “What are Boeing’s top challenges as a company?” when you are interviewing for an accounting job in a certain department under a hiring manager who is looking for a very specific set of skills. You’re burning up valuable time, you can read those online or in the papers, and the question is not relevant to the job unless you are interviewing for their CEO or CFO position.
What are the best questions to ask in an interview?
There are many, but I’ll share my favorites.
- I’m very self-motivated. How will you measure my success in this position after one full year?
- The first 30 days are very important for me to meet as many team members as possible. How will you recommend I do that?
- What are the top 3 skills or experiences you are looking for that may not be mentioned in the job description?
- Of all of the people who have worked for you, what are the characteristics of those who have stood out as great performers?
- I have to admit I’m a perfectionist in some areas. What are the aspects of this position that absolutely require precision and attention to detail?
- What do you find most creative about what you do…and what aspects would have a creative feeling to them for me? (Replace “creative” with another positive skill of the
- Of all of the criteria you have outlined for this position, what are the top 3 in stack rank order?
- The position we are discussing is something I am very excited about. Can you give me feedback on how I am meeting your qualifications and if I will proceed to the next level of
- the hiring process? (This is called “going for the close” or “asking for the order” in sales.)
1 LISTEN!!! When nervous, LISTEN harder. Well over 50% of the poor interview answers are because the candidate didn’t listen to the very basic question. This sabotages your entire interview because the hiring manager is going to have concerns that you won’t listen to their instructions on the job.
a. Check yourself to be sure you don’t have your own set of messages you want to blurt out. This will cause you to answer in a way that pushes your information versus what the interviewer asked for.
b. Sometimes the interviewer will repeat the question since you answered a different one. Only let that happen once, as they are giving you a break. LISTEN harder from now on.
c. If you don’t understand the question, ask, “Can you repeat the question and clarify please?”
2 “The Law of 3s”—For every question, both during your preparation AND during your interview, state no more than 3 things then stop. A full stop, not just a pause for breath. If the interviewer wants more, she will ask. If the silence becomes too awkward, you can ask, “Would you like more information?” Smile at the end of every question. Not a huge, silly smile, but grin as if you just hit the right note, crossed a finish line, or got an A on a quiz.
3 You will have a pen and paper open on the table during a face-to-face interview. In the far right or left margin, you can have short clues to some key interview questions and answers that you are nervous about remembering.
4 Scribble some words about the question down so you can peek at it and stay on track.
5 Pause after the question is asked and think. Feel free to scribble 3 words down that will be your 3 points. Then begin.